On Saturday, June 3, Farsi-speaking church leaders and regional ministry workers gathered in Turkey for the inaugural graduation of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Persian Leadership Development program.
As the program’s first graduating class, 23 Muslim-background believers received a Bachelor of Science in pastoral ministry, representing a landmark moment for global theological education and for the Persian church.
Started in 2016 under the leadership of Kambiz Saghaey, Southeastern’s Persian Leadership Development (PLD) program offers biblical and theological training to more than 3,500 Farsi-speaking students in 43 countries. The first program of its kind, the PLD program partners with Mojdeh Ministry to provide strategically positioned Persian church leaders with access to fully accredited theological bachelor’s and master’s degrees completely in Farsi.
In a context where biblical theological training is scarce and few conservative theological classes and resources have been translated into the native language, thousands of church and ministry leaders now have access to one-of-a-kind theological training. They are being equipped in Farsi to study and teach God’s Word in regions with little Gospel witness.
As the culmination of years of prayer, coordination and training, the graduation is a testimony to God’s providence and to the Persian church’s perseverance amid persecution and suffering.
“This is such a moment of accomplishment and pride,” commented John Ewart, professor of missions and pastoral leadership and associate vice president for Global Theological Initiatives and ministry centers at Southeastern.
With graduates from Afghanistan, Romania, Greece, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Malaysia, Sweden and Finland, the graduating class is the first wave of Persian leaders who will be mobilized through the program to strengthen the growing missionary movement — not only in Europe and Central Asia but also around the world.
“These students are part of a Christian community that knows what it means to live under persecution or to live as refugees or immigrants,” Ewart said. “It is so strengthening and encouraging for them to celebrate this accomplishment together. This graduation gives hope to the fastest growing church in the Muslim world, and it is a joy for Southeastern and our partners to celebrate this historic moment.”
Grounding his commencement address in Mark 10:42-45, SEBTS President Danny Akin urged graduates to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for them and to follow in His example of sacrificial service as they are sent out to fulfill the Great Commission.
“As you go, serve others like you have been served by Jesus,” Akin charged the graduates. “If our Lord came to serve us, then we are called to go and serve others. … You are never more like Jesus than when you are serving other people.”
“You are here today because God has raised you up to be a leader,” he said. “He has given you a very precious gift. Be a good steward of it. Use this great gift not to make yourself great but to make Jesus great. Serve others like Jesus served you, and you will be great in His kingdom.”
As Akin reminded the graduates, they have joined the Southeastern family — the Great Commission community of Southeastern alumni who are serving Jesus all around the world. For Akin, being able to celebrate this inaugural graduation and the remarkable growth of the program far exceed his hopes and expectations.
“I did not dream that this day would come, but God’s dreams are much bigger than ours,” Akin told attendees. “And you are making history today as our first Farsi graduating class.”
The largest program in Southeastern’s Global Theological Initiatives, the PLD program is an extension of Southeastern’s Great Commission vision, and it is flourishing in regions of persecution where the Church is hungry for rigorous biblical training and conservative theological education.
“Our Global Theological initiatives at Southeastern seek to equip the leaders of the global church,” Ewart said. “We long to see the throne room of Revelation 5 and 7 filled with people from every tribe, every tongue and every nation.”
As a fitting conclusion to the day, students, alumni, and regional workers gathered Saturday evening with the team from the Iranian Bible Society Diaspora to dedicate and celebrate the release of a fully revised Persian translation of the Bible (TVPR). The completion of the revised Persian Bible will play an important role in serving the Persian church and expanding opportunities for gospel ministry in Persian countries.